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Smit helps rookie

Fotopress

Sportal.co.nz     05 Aug 2006     Fotopress

The 19-year-old Ralepelle will make his debut for South Africa this weekend against the Wallabies after being named on the bench for Saturday night's Test in Sydney, but just how he came to be in this position is as much Smit's doing as it is the talent of young front rower.

Ralepelle grew up in Tzaneen, a city north of Pretoria, but his promise as a rugby union player saw him offered a scholarship to Pretoria Boys High. As on old boy of the school, Smit recognised the teenager's talents and helped pay for Ralepelle's boarding fees.

"(Smit) had a lot to do with my upbringing as a schoolboy and he has helped me a lot," Ralepelle said in The Australian.

"He was always there for me. Any fees or whatever my parents couldn't afford, he was only too willing to help. To me, he is a big brother, friend, captain and a great leader and mentor. Since then our relationship has grown immense."

It seems as if it was money well spent. Last year, Ralepelle captained two South Africa world championship-winning teams, in the under-19 and under-21 tournaments, so his elevation to the Springboks senior squad has been more a case of 'when' not 'if'.

But according to the teenager it still came as a surprise.

"I got a call while I was at the airport in (Johannesburg)," Ralepelle said.

"I was actually getting a fine when I got the call that I was making the national squad. I was parked in a non-parking zone."

But with all his big game experience of playing at the world titles Ralepelle is still thrilled to be making his international senior debut.

"It's nerve breaking," he said.

"Just talking about it gives me lots of goosebumps.

"You have to be on top of your game. There's no time to think I'm young, I can't tackle this guy. You have to go out and give the first big hit."

Ralepelle, who's real first name is Mahlatse, which means "blessed one" in Sotho, will be the youngest player in almost a century to play for the Springboks if he gets on to the field on Saturday night.

South African coach Jake White said all the wraps on Ralepelle are warranted and he is absolutely convinced he will captain South Africa one day.

And although, Chiliboy, a name given to him by his grandfather, would love to have the honour of being the
Springboks first black skipper, the lad is presently content to just be making his debut.

"At the moment I'm not really focusing on being captain of the Springboks," Ralepelle said.

"I'm focusing on making the starting line-up and being the best player I can be."

But it is Smit, mentor, friend, benefactor and skipper who is perhaps the proudest to see Ralepalle making his debut this weekend.

"It's amazing to see a guy who hasn't even turned 20 yet getting an opportunity with the Springboks," Smit said.

"He is as tough as a 28-year-old and is as mature as one. I think he is going to stay for a long time."